Book Review – The Winter Wilderness Companion: Traditional and Native American Skills for the Undiscovered Season

The Winter Wilderness Companion: Traditional and Native American Skills for the Undiscovered Season by Garrett and Alexandra Conover $19.95 ($31.95 Canadian)
Paperback – 384 pages (2001)
Ragged Mountain Press/McGraw-Hill; ISBN 007136417X

If your ideal winter getaway involves sand, an over abundance of tequila, and bikinis, then it’s a pretty good bet that Garrett and Alexandra Conover’s “The Winter Wilderness Companion: Traditional and Native American Skills for the Undiscovered Season” is not likely to find it’s way onto your top 10 list of must read books anytime soon.

But, if you’ve ever entertained the notion of strapping on a pair of snowshoes and heading off into the backcountry for a winter camping expedition (or simply strapping on a pair of snowshoes for that matter), The Winter Wilderness Companion is required reading. Even if you never plan to spend a night in the winter wilds staring at the Aurora Borealis, there is much to be gained from The Winter Wilderness Companion.

Garrett and Alexandra Conover, registered Maine guides, have operated North Woods Ways Classic Wilderness Guiding service for the past 25 years, employing traditional and Native American skills and equipment on their treks into the wild areas of Maine, Labrador and Northern Quebec. They have been named to Outdoor Magazine’s list of “20th Century Heroes for a New Millennium”, and just in case you question the Conovers’ snowshoe credentials, have guided two-month long snowshoe treks into the wilds of Northern Quebec.

In The Winter Wilderness Companion, Garrett and Alexandra Conover share from their wealth of experience traveling throughout the winter wilds and allow the reader to peer through a window into a culture that relied on their outdoor knowledge and skills to not only survive, but live in relative harmony with a harsh winter environment.

The Winter Wilderness Companion is a re-issue of the Conovers’ 1995 tile, “A Snow Walker’s Companion.” From snowshoes and footwear to menu planning and personal hygiene on the trail, it’s all there; the Conovers leave no stone unturned. Whether you are looking for what snowshoe for what snow condition or for toboggan designs, or how to pitch a tent in the middle of winter, it’s all there. But The Winter Wilderness Companion is so much more than a run of the mill how-to book. Sure the Connovers parlay useful instruction in the skills necessary to walk the winter pathways, but beneath the “how-to” is a philosophy of kinship and oneness with nature and the elements. It’s the personal accounts and stories of their adventures on the trail that really brings this book to life and sets it apart from other guidebooks.

Despite dedicating but a single chapter (the opening chapter) to snowshoes and footwear, the weekend snowshoe enthusiast will find much of interest throughout the book. Be it appropriate clothing and layering techniques for spending time outdoors in winter, or how to turn in a pair of traditional snowshoes without ending up with your legs twisted about like a pretzel (this is not nearly as much fun as it sounds, trust me) The Winter Wilderness Companion has a little something for snowshoe enthusiasts of any level.

Another feature that I found particularly useful was the list of sources and useful addresses at the end of each chapter: It’s all fine and well to tell someone what they need, and how to use it, but what’s the use if you have no idea where or how to get it. From snowshoe and moccasin manufacturers to where to buy lampwicking for snowshoe bindings (S.I.R. Mail Order in my home town of Winnipeg) to topographical maps and toboggan and tent suppliers, The Winter Wilderness companion lists sources for everything that you’ll need to fully enjoy your winter wilderness experience.

The Winter Wilderness Companion is more than just another guidebook; it is a window into a culture and lifestyle that is often misunderstood and taken for granted by the general public. Garrett and Alexandra Conover have managed to take the guidebook format to a new level with their practical knowledge and personal anecdotes and stories from the winter wilds.

For the snowshoe enthusiast who wants to take their winter outdoor experience to another level, there is not a better book on the market. You can almost see your breath as the Conovers lead you on a spiritual adventure down the winter trail and invite you into their tent for a cup of tea beside the stove. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Unfortunately The Winter Wilderness Companion is currently out of print. But if you are interested in checking out a copy, it is currently available, both new and used from Trust me, it’s worth it.

To learn more about the Conovers and North Woods Ways Classic Wilderness Guiding, point your Web browser to their Web site:


  • Craig Gillespie is a freelance writer, residing in Winnipeg, Canada (Winterpeg to some), in a 100-year old home with his wife, three children, and the mice that seem to magically appear, like clockwork, each Fall. He has a passion for long run-on sentences, and all thing outdoors.